Betty Boop, MD


To continue the theme of a cartoon on a Saturday morning, I have here the 1932 Fleischer Studios cartoon Betty Boop, M.D.. Unlike last week’s A Hunting We Will Go this one isn’t able to structure its “big heap of jokes” into a way that feels quite natural: it looks much more like the animators thought of everything they could do based on Betty Boop, Bimbo, and Koko the Clown selling the snake-oil Jippo, and whatever was best made the cut.

But what it lacks in a narrative structure it makes up for in weirdness. Fleischer Brothers cartoons have a reputation for seeming deranged, with a reputation for psychedelic weirdness. That’s put to good effect here. A succession of characters drink some of the Jippo, and something weird happens, and the weirdness just keeps ratcheting up. Any cartoon studio might think of the joke where an old man drinks Jippo and becomes young, and an infant drinks it and becomes old; but it’s very black-and-white Fleischer to have the guy pouring the Jippo on his peg leg and … well, just see, and if your jaw doesn’t drop at least a couple times you aren’t paying attention to the cartoon. It’s a short which inspires the question, “Wait, what?”

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

4 thoughts on “Betty Boop, MD”

    1. Yeah, There’s some inexplicable quality of the actual Fleischer cartoons that attempts to do cartoons in their style don’t capture. I think it’s mostly a practice effect: by this point the Flesicher animators had been putting together jokes like this for a decade or more, as a team, and could develop whatever strange thematic unity it is they had for these jokes. Trying to do a parody or a pastiche is trying to capture something of those decades of experience without having it yourself and that’s hard to get right.

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    1. If I’m not mistaken the closing scene is the infant turning into the Mister Hyde from the Frederic March version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde … so to audiences of the day the closing would be less baffling “remember this pop culture thing?” punch line.

      (As often happens these cartoons sometimes need footnotes; Betty Boop for President includes a riff on Al Smith, for crying out loud, and not even an accessible one but one that requires you to know people were making fun of him for saying “radio” with a short-a sound, that is, radd-ee-oh.)

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